7For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.” 8See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. 9With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
10Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.” 11For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. 12They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. 13Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. 14I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.
As we celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Christmas this morning, let us ask ourselves what makes this season so special for each of us. Is it all the feasting that seems to go on and on? All those delicious sweets that pop up everywhere you go. Whether they’re at the workplace or church or friends’ places or even our own homes, we just can’t seem to get away from the Christmas treats! How about all the gifts we exchange with each other? Gifts are a great way to show our gratefulness for the people in our lives as well as teach us how appreciated we are in others’ lives. What about the vacation time we get during this time? Certainly the kids among us love the 2-week break from the rigors of their schooling! Many of us adults are also blessed with a day or two off from work. Some of us use the break to work seasonal positions and earn a little extra cash. How about all our reunions with loved ones from afar? No matter how far away our loved ones are, they somehow find ways back home for sharing the celebration. We’re able to catch up on each other’s trials and tribulations from the year and experience the true reason for the season—to love.
Each of our readings this morning help us to dwell in the blessing of this season of gathering us together. We begin with the prophet Jeremiah encouraging the people of Israel to sing aloud, giving thanks to God for having reunited them after scattering them apart from each other. The Lord proclaims, “See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the bling and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.” God had scattered the Israelites and God had brought them together again. God scatters us from our loved ones, if not physically than mentally and spiritually. We each have our own lives to live. We each have our own demands placed on us. But we are blessed with a God who brings us back together. We are blessed to know a God who “keeps us as a shepherd a flock.” No matter how stressful our yearly reunions with loved ones can be, we should be particularly thankful to God for allowing them to happen at all.
12Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
13For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.
14He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
15He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
16He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
17He hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold?
18He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!
God gathers us together with loved ones for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we gather to reminisce on our shared past. We had different life circumstances back then, different responsibilities. We learned from each other. We helped each other. We laughed with each other. We played with each other. We grew with each other. As adults, we gather to reflect on these times and how they helped mold the person we become. At other times, we gather to maneuver major family changes like a birth or a death or a wedding or an intervention or a job loss. We rally together to create the necessary net for our struggling, offset loved one. Together we are stronger than any one of us alone. We gather to lift each other when life knocks us down. At other times, we gather to simply share the deep love we have for each other. We enjoy being known by the few special people in our lives and we show our appreciation by giving them our love. We love sharing parts of our lives with people we are sure won’t hurt us or judge us. Sometimes we get together to resolve conflicts with each other. No family is perfect and conflict is likely to arise in many families. Getting together to resolve conflict is essential for the success of long-term relationships especially within families.
Regardless of why God gathers us together, we gather under the guidance and protection of God. In our psalm for today, we hear David encourage the people of Jerusalem to lift up their praise and thanksgiving for all God does for them. He sings, “For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.” God gathers us together, both the willing and the unwilling, the peaceful and the battling. God wants us to gather with our loved ones for whatever reason and will work to bring about peaceful, loving interactions. We might not gather peacefully or lovingly but God will work to elicit peace and love. God isn’t pleased when we have conflicting relationships, especially with loved ones. God wants us to know his peace and love in our relationships, particularly with loved ones. God gives us his words and statutes so that we might achieve peace and love with each other. As David sang, “He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!”
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
So God gathers our loved one together during this time of year. Does He do this simply so we might share a meal with each other? Or exchange gifts? Or reminisce over the “good ole times?” Or resolve lingering conflicts? No, God gathers us together in a specific time for a specific purpose. We are gathered to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are gathered to celebrate God taking the form of a person so that we might better understand God. God didn’t come to us so that He might better experience what it means to be human. God knows fully, all too well, what it means to be a human. We are HIS creation! He isn’t our creation! He knows everything to know about us…He created us! No, God came to us and continues to come to us so that we might better understand Him. And when He comes to us through Jesus Christ we are adopted as his children. We enter into a new family in and through Jesus Christ. Our “loved ones” have exponentially multiplied to include not only our blood relatives but also anyone who has come to know and believe in Jesus Christ. God gathers us in both our biological families and our Christological families during this time of year. We gather as Christians to celebrate the birth of the Messiah.
Paul, writing for and on behalf of his congregation, helps us to appreciate who we are as a gathered Christian community. He writes, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” God has gathered us together as Christians to redeem us, to forgive us our trespasses, and to lavish us with the riches of his grace. God has gathered us together as Christians to reveal some of mystery through Jesus. What a blessing to be gathered as Christians! What a blessing to receive all that comes with being a Christian! What a blessing to know God’s love as a Christian!
10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
We have been gathered with our families and friends and fellow Christians this Christmas to celebrate Jesus’ birth. For whom do we celebrate this? Are we celebrating it for God? Are we celebrating it for ourselves? Are we celebrating it because it’s just what you’re supposed to do as a Christian at Christmas? Are we actually celebrating Jesus’ birth or are we just giving the holiday lip service? Some might be saying, “Sure, Christmas is about Christ and what he’s done for our world and for others…but not necessarily for what he’s done for me.” On the other hand, there are some who might be saying, “Sure, Christ has done a lot for me so I’m going to celebrate that.” Is Christ just for you or me? Is Christ just for others and not you or me? For whom are we celebrating Christ’s birth?
John gives us an equally important alternative. John reminds us that very few people knew who Jesus was when he was alive. John writes, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” Did this stop Jesus from carrying out his ministry? Did this stop him from going to the cross? Did this stop him from rising from the dead on the third day? Of course not! Jesus was born, lived, died, and resurrected for all of us, both believers and non-believers alike. Perhaps we are called to celebrate Christmas not for ourselves or for God or for our fellow Christians but for all the non-believers. Perhaps we celebrate because there are far too many people in this world who have yet to know the love of God through Christ. Perhaps we celebrate so that others might better know the deep joy that comes from a relationship with Jesus. We are gathered to gather others. Remember, together we are stronger than any one of us alone. Together we have received “grace upon grace” and we must share grace upon grace with others.
The Christmas season gathers us…God gathers us. Truth and grace are revealed to us through Christ. The love of God is revealed to us through Christ. We are gathered to share Christ’s truth and grace and love. Let us go forth rejoicing in the coming of our newborn king and gathering in his name.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.